liens evitement

Réduire le texte Agrandir le texte Imprimer la page

The choir

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

The Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile is the only Cathedral in France to have conserved the totality of its choir1. In the others, for various reasons, the rood screen has disappeared.

Albi’s exceptional choir is comprised of two main elements: an architectural structure, the choir enclosure, and a profusion of statuary which originally counted 280 statues of which 150 remain in place today.

The bays of the choir’s tower present an intricate array of stonework, evocative of leaping flames. The external façade of the rood screen exhibits all the fundamental elements of the late Gothic period. Ogee and reverse-ogee arches give a dynamic feel to the façade which is reinforced by the well defined verticals. We also see semi-circular arches 1 and horizontals which temper the dominant vertical tendency. The fan vaults with their hanging keystones, supporting the tribunes, illustrate the impressive skill of the artisans employed to build the choir.

The artisans were capable of building complex structures and demonstrated knowledge of the most advanced building procedures.

In the ensemble of the choir the stereotomy 2 is of exceptional quality. No dais, plinth, or any other structure is monolithic (made of a single stone). All structures are composed of multiple elements covered with a complex décor, and both the fashioning and the assembly of these elements required great precision, so much more so as the joints are rarely visible.

This refinement puts on show the virtuosity of the stone-cutters employed by Louis d’Amboise. Their great skill is responsible for the abundance of flamboyant marvels in the choir at Albi where the ornamentation abounds with creative jubilation. The stone, presenting motifs detached from the base which carries them, is engraved as intricately as by a goldsmith.

The architectural forms: arches, pinnacles and tracery multiply in an astonishing fashion. It has been said in this sense that the dais of the pulpit constitutes the epitome of flamboyant art. Added to the splendour of the stone work is the magnificent iron and wood work, fashioned by joiners and ironmongers of remarkable talent.

The richness of the enclosure underlines the essential importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice and of the divine office which take place in the sanctuary.

The interior is particularly resplendent. The dais which dominates the stalls and the angels which frame them make an extraordinary spectacle.

The white stone carving stands out upon the red and blue panels and this burst of colour is reinforced by the golden ’grotesques’ which animate each of the panels. The enclosure manifests a profound unity whose aim is to express the harmony of heaven and the divine order.

All the details of the enclosure are meaningful. We find there the expression of the sacred arithmetic of the Middle Ages. Among other examples, the enclosure has 33 panels, Christ’s age at the time of his crucifixion, and the pulpit’s arch counts seven roses and rests on twelve feet.

Likewise, the representations of leaves and flowers that we see in many places are highly meaningful. Oak evokes the pact struck between God and Abraham in Mamre’s oak grove and the vine symbolises the New Testament and the Eucharist.

All these details were therefore deeply thought out. The statuary presents a similar symbolic coherence.

1An arch is a curved structure that spans a space while supporting weight (e.g. a doorway in a stone wall). First seen in Mesopotamian brickwork in the 2nd millennium BC, their systematic use began with the Ancient Romans who applied semi-circular arches to a wide range of structures. This technique was further developed by mediaeval European architects and predominated in Romanesque architecture until the introduction of ogee arches at the beginning of the 12th century. An arch owes its stability to the principle of compression, but is only stable when all its components are in place. It is therefore necessary to construct a temporary structure (often in wood) upon which the stones can be placed. The keystone is the last to be put in place and it is only then that the arch becomes stable.

2Stereotomy: the technique of cutting solids, such as stones, to specified forms and dimensions.

Menu | Top